The American Museum of Asmat Art Film Archive

The American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA) is located on the second floor of the Anderson Student Center, on the St. Paul Campus of the University of St. Thomas.

The nearly 3,000 objects in the collection are derived from the decades-long interactions between the Asmat people of southwestern New Guinea and a group of Christian missionaries called the American Crosier Father and Brothers. This Catholic religious Order first arrived in Asmat in 1958, led by Bishop Alphonse Sowada.

Over the years the Crosiers acquired a vast number of Asmat cultural objects through purchase, trade and as gifts. In 2007, the collection was given to St. Thomas and in 2012, the AMAA opened its doors to the public.

Recently the director of the AMAA, Gretchen Burau, uncovered a number of 16mm and 8mm documentary films dating to the early days of the missionary presence in Asmat. The films represent a rare first hand anthropological record of the Asmat people beginning the 1960s.

One film depicts an Asmat fishing expedition in traditional standing canoes. Another film depicts the gathering of sago – a food staple – in the forest. There are films which depict the hand carving of canoes and wood sculptures. Still more films document the building of houses and a large church, all under the supervision of missionaries. According to Gretchen,

“I was thrilled when these films were uncovered and hoping some of the footage could be used for museum projects. Upon further inspection, I became concerned that some of the 16mm films were starting to deteriorate. That’s when I emailed Saving Tape and inquired about digitizing all the material. There was minimal information accompanying these films so I was pleasantly surprised to have so much imagery from this pivotal time in Asmat history.

These videos will provide viewers with a more comprehensive understanding of Asmat art, culture and society. They will ultimately be preserved for future generations and shared with the people of Asmat. I have been showing some of the footage in my Pacific Art class at the University of St. Thomas and am working on a documentary about the life of Fr. Jan Smit with a local filmmaker. Some of the videos will also be included in our next exhibition which features contemporary images of Asmat created by a National Geographic photographer.

Working with Saving Tape was a joy. I appreciated their professionalism and willingness to discuss these films in terms of quality and use. Thor and his team also had great questions about the footage, which allowed me to further understand how this imagery may be interpreted by those who are new to Asmat. I hope to have their staff visit the American Museum of Asmat Art soon!”

The AMAA is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday during the academic year. Visit their website for daily hours: theamaa.org

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Happy Savingtape Clients -- Our film transfer clients include the Minnesota Historical Society, the Hennepin History Museum and others. We gladly provide free output samples on film archive projects over 5,000 feet.